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Meet Todd Radunsky

Today we’d like to introduce you to Todd Radunsky.

Todd, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I was 13, I had already become a huge fan of music. Lucky to have friends’ with older brothers who were very into the music scene and eager to teach us youngsters, the ropes. They’d let us listen as they played Miles Davis and B.B. King on vinyl and cassette tapes of the Sex Pistols and Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, U2 the Talking Heads and so many more. It was the summer of 1981 and every day, we listened in awe. My friends and I had never heard anything quite like the sounds that were coming from my friends older brothers 1978 JVC “boom box” we all envied. By that time, I had posters of my musical heroes all over the walls of my room. Each one meticulously placed. Eddie Van Halen and his signature Frankenstein Guitar on one closet door, Jimmy Page with his double necked Gibson on the other. I’d lay in bed at night staring at those posters, music softly playing in the background and I’d think, not only about how amazing and talented each musician was, but I also wondered often, “Who took those pictures?” How did they get so close to the band? “Could that be the next best job in the world after “Rock Star?”

I saw my first concert, the Sex Pistols in 1982, I was 14. Within seconds of them playing their first note, I absolutely fell in love with live concerts. I loved everything about them. The sounds, the smells, the energy, the spontaneity and sheer joy of it all, just overwhelmed my untrained senses. When it was over, I had self-diagnosed post-concert depression for 24 hours. I had to get back. I had to do that again!

Fast forward to the summer of ’84. I just turned 16 years old, and I went to my very first Grateful Dead concert. My very first of what would wind up being over 200 Grateful Dead shows that I would see from 1984-1995. In college, instead of spending Spring Break in Cabo or South Padre Island like most college kids at the time, some of my friends and I would hop in our cars or on a plane, and go on a mini-tour with the band. Sometimes it was five shows in the midwest, sometimes in was 11 shows on the East coast, sometimes it was a four-show run in San Francisco culminating on New Years’ eve. For us, it was a time of new found freedom, a time of new experience. For us, it was truly glorious.

A few years later, in the Spring of ’87, I had seen 24 Dead shows. Tonight was going to be my 25th! The UIC Pavillion in Chicago! My home town! We’d waited a year for this. We were packed up, and we were ready to hit the road.. As we were leaving for the show, I noticed my buddy Matt grabbing his sister’s camera. I asked him if he was bring it with him to the show. This is when I learned that the Grateful Dead were one of the very few bands that drew large crowds, that allowed literally anyone who attended the show to bring in any camera and lens they wanted and take the bands photos while the band played on stage. Cool!

About halfway through the show, my friend pulled out that 1982 Nikon FG. It was the very first time I’d held a “real” camera. A real SLR! The camera was heavier than I expected, and it had all these little dials and knobs! I had absolutely no idea what each one did but that camera sure looked professional. After watching my friend snap a few pictures from our 30th row view, we decided it might be a good idea to sneak down as close as we could to the band and maybe get some really good photos of them.. So we politely, but aggressively weaved our way through the crowd, and like a salmon to its final spawning place, we were drawn to the very front row! The journey to the promised land took all of about 3 minutes, but the effect once I got there would last a lifetime. There they were. The Grateful Dead! One of the most world famous and talented bands that ever was, or ever will be, and they were 20 feet away. Absolutely mesmerizing! For the rest of the show, we eagerly passed that camera back and forth to each other, taking pictures, and pretending we knew what the hell we were doing. By the end of the show, I was convinced that was the single most fun and exiting experience I’d ever had and I wanted more. Lots more.

After spending a two years studying at a small college in Champaign Ill., I started attending class at the much larger University of Illinois. It didn’t take long for me to realize reading pages upon pages of Law Material, .I was convinced that becoming a lawyer, certainly an amazing profession, was just not for me. However, photography WAS for me. So I finished out the semester, and quietly moved back to the suburbs of Chicago, took a year off, regrouped, and started taking classes at Columbia College in the city of Chicago. Columbia is a private college specializing in arts and media disciplines and has been around since the 1800s. The photojournalism school there is the best in the world, in my personal opinion. It’s renowned for it’s unique staff full of working professionals and attending Columbia was a huge learning experience for me. I was very fortunate to have studied under some of the best working photojournalists in the city, including John H. White, a genius photographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was and still is an inspiration to all who knew him.

After graduating with a degree in Liberal Arts/Photojournalism from Columbia, I immediately wanted to move to Colorado and I wanted to be a newspaper photographer/photojournalist. So in the summer of 1995, I packed up my bags, hugged my family and friends goodbye , and headed West to the well-known town of Boulder Colorado. There, I thought, I’d get a job with a newspaper eventually or maybe a magazine. But as we all know, life can be completely unpredictable and can lead you down all sorts of crazy paths you never thought you’d be on. Before I knew it, I was shooting weddings and portraits to make ends meet.

In the meantime, in 1997, now two years after I moved to Boulder, live music, as well as concert photography, was still of huge interest to me. I had just seen “The Funky Meters” play at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and noticed there was a couple of photos of bands on the wall. But I also noticed no one was there taking pictures that night. So the next day, I decided to drive over to the Fox Theater, and see if they might need a “House Photographer” to document the bands that were playing there at the time, and maybe get some of my images on the walls. Luckily I was given the go-ahead to do so and I was extremely grateful for the shot the then General Manager of the Fox, Cheryl Liguori, gave me. What a fabulous opportunity! And so for a decade or more, from 1997 to about 2008, I got to photograph most of the bands playing at the Fox, that were either coming up in the industry, many of whom were on the verge of exploding into stardom and many bands that already exploded into the public consciousness… Bands like Widespread Panic and Jack Johnson and Ben Harper and Phish, Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler, Phish, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Radiohead, Willie Nelson and John Fogerty all rocking that room at one time or another. I wound up shooting 10’s of thousands of images at the Fox of hundreds of well-known bands from all over the world. There was nothing like it. Everyone who worked there from the bartenders to the security to management were all fabulous and the music. The music was sublime. Year after year, talent buyer Don Strasburg was putting one exceptional band after another in that intimate space and I was fortunate to document it all. My work is still on display all over the lobby of that great Theatre and I’m still thankful to Cheryl Liguori for the once in a lifetime opportunity as well as Mr Strasburg for being so talented at his job, providing the Denver area with years of amazing music.

After shooting at the Fox for a couple years, and making a little bit of a name for myself, I started shooting pictures for lots of other people and places. The Boulder Theater, The E-Town Radio Broadcast, and the newly built Fillmore Auditorium documenting shows for them and Bill Graham Presents. Over time, I met different band managers and publicists and musicians and would get work shooting shows for them or doing publicity photos in the studio or on location. As website started becoming a thing, I had someone create one for me and tried marketing myself that way since there was no real social media back then. I networked at shows and festivals and tried to get work that way as well. As my portfolio grew, I could send more images to bands to check out and hopefully hire me. I’m proud to say I’ve now been shooting concerts and bands since I was 16. Professionally for 25 years and I’m still going strong at the ripe age of 51. I’m looking forward to hundreds more concerts in the future. Please keep an eye out for meat your next concert and come say hell! You can find me and my cameras at all the Denver concert venues including, but not limited to Red Rocks, The Fox Theatre, The Fillmore, Fiddlers Green, Pepsi Center, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, The Mission Ballroom, The Gothic, the Boulder Theater, the Ogden Theatre, the Paramount, the 1st Bank Center and more. I generally shoot between 75-100 bands a year so I hope to see you readers at some of them!

Has it been a smooth road?
It seems like in life, as well as business, nothing worthwhile comes easy. And that’s okay. Plain and simply, there’s just more competition now than there was back in the day. When I first started taking pictures of bands and concerts in Colorado, it seems like I was almost the only photographer in Boulder/Denver doing it. For example, In 1997 I’d head up to the Fox Theatre to document a sold-out show, and I’d constantly be the only photographer in the building taking pictures. I’d drive up to Red Rocks for a sold-out show and there, I might find one or two other photographers in the photo pit. Now there might be 15. Back in the day I could send my images to a band or magazine after a show and they would see them almost immediately because I was probably the only photographer to get images of that band at a particular venue that night. Not so much anymore. With the invention of the digital camera, which is easier to use than the old SLR’s. and more and more websites and blogs popping up, there’s just more and more photographers shooting concerts around the country . That means more competition for work. More competition for work sometimes means making much less money for a gig, and sometimes it means shooting for free. It also means more politics. I’m fine with it but it’s sure made being a concert photographer more difficult. That’s why I’ve seen probably hundreds of photographers come and go in this business, only to go find another profession. It’s not easy to make money, and people quickly learn, concert photography is technically very challenging.

There’s also the issue of stealing/theft. Photographers nowadays have to be extra careful with where their work goes online, and try to figure out if anyone is stealing it and using it without the photographer’s permission. Over the years, I’ve seen my work published in many places it shouldn’t be. I’ve seen my pictures used without my permission many times and without paying me. It’s very frustrating. I was even at a concert once and saw my images on printed on Tee-shirts that were being sold, without my permission! Unbelievable! It’s a constant challenge to try and not have my work stolen.

My biggest hurdle right now is landing an agent/artist rep who can find me more gigs shooting shows, as well as helping me find a publisher to do a coffee table book and a large gallery show in a classy gallery, or several galleries around the country.

My biggest challenge to date was being diagnosed with a super rare form of cancer in 2015, Chordoma. Absolutely terrifying. I was forced to not be able to photograph concerts or anything else for quite a while. Instead, as much as I tried not to, I thought about life and my mortality a lot. Not knowing if I would ever shoot another concert My wife and I moved to Boston for six weeks in order to get the special Proton Radiation treatment I needed at Mass. General Hospital. It’s been almost five years and after many flights back and forth to Boston, I’m cancer-free.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
Todd Radunsky photography is the do it all photography company. I’m known for my work in the music landscape but I’ve been in business since 2008 and over the years I’ve photographed countless weddings, senior class pictures for both boys and girls, product photography, kids sports and action photography, landscape photography, individual and family portraits and of course, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 concerts. I’ve worked closely with a variety of different clients, from Large companies like Invesco and Crocs, to smaller companies like Space Glass and Skyway Foods. I’ve worked with many different bands, publicists, record companies, and band managers. I’ve also met and worked with many wonderful brides to be and have photographed weddings in Colorado, California, Illinois, Cape Cod, and the amazing country of Ireland.
My work has been published in The Atlantic, the London Times, Billboard Magazine, On Stage Magazine, Guitar Player Magazine, and USA Today, to name a few. My images have been published online by too many websites to count but you can view a vast amount of my concert photography at www.glidemagazine.com or htps://theknow.denverpost.com/ or www.listenupdenver.com. Just type my name in the search box!

To be frank, it would be impossible for me to figure out what sets me apart from others if anything at all. The work in my profession is quite subjective. For example, If I were to say, “What sets me apart is I have the best images and portfolio,” someone else might disagree. So even if I believe it, I can’t factually say my work “sets me apart” I’ll leave that to the people who are viewing my pictures vs. other photographer’s pictures and let them judge for themselves.

Personally, I think my images hold their own against anyone’s, but I know that there happen to be some very talented men and women all over the field of photography and I respect all of them greatly. It’s a super tough business and a rare talent to have, so they all have my admiration, even if I don’t know all of them personally. The only thing I can say for certain is when you hire me for any photography job, you get fabulous images, in a timely manner, from an affable photographer, at a fair price.

My industry, specifically concert and band photography, as well as wedding and portrait photography, could change dramatically depending on what happens with Covid19. It’s all a mystery. Right now, there are no weddings, no concerts, and due to social distancing, no family or individual portraits. I can go out and photograph landscapes by myself with no people around but that’s about it for now. That’s where my industry is at this moment. It’s extremely painful not to be able to do what I love. If and when life goes back to normal, I don’t see the industry changing much in the next several years.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Having an intense amount of passion for what I do and being resilient. I truly Feel that I was born to do what I do. Success is a funny word. It means a variety of things to different people. To some, success means having the biggest bank account. To others, it’s achieving a certain title or having certain status within a specific social group. To me, success means having an overwhelming sense of passion for whatever you’re doing in life. I’d much rather be a shoe shiner or grocery clerk who doesn’t make big money, but who’s passionate about his job, and can’t wait to jump out of bed and get to work every day, than be a stock day trader who makes incredible amounts of money, but hates his job, hates his boss, never has free time and is always stressed out. The passion I’ve had for my job over the years has kept me going through the valleys that inevitably rear their ugly heads in any business. My advice for anyone who isn’t sure what they want to do in life is find something you’re passionate about and try to cleverly carve yourself a niche within that realm.

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